observations: A long, clever, solid book, one to get lost in: it tells the story of a Victorian spinster and her relationship with the family of the artist Ned Gillespie – Harriet Baxter moves to Glasgow and makes friends with his wife, his children, his mother-in-law and his sister, and even starts advising him about his art. A shocking event disrupts this already-slightly-uncomfortable situation, and then everything goes very wrong indeed. The story is Miss Baxter’s memoirs, and she is also keeping us up-to-date with what happens as she writes her story, in 1933. It doesn’t do to spoiler too much: any experienced reader can spot an unreliable narrator a mile off, and although the events take slightly unexpected turns, the long-term story isn’t a huge surprise to crime fiction fans. But still, it is extremely cleverly written, very funny, and lingers in the mind, as you wonder if there were further implications about other, casually mentioned, incidents.
Miss Baxter has a very distinct and enjoyable voice, and though sometimes you think the book could have been a good 100 pages shorter, time spent in her company is not wasted. She is something like the protagonist of Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. A lot of people loved Harris’s first novel, The Observations. I prefer this one by a long way.
Links on the blog: The wonderful Fiona in Being Emily was an art student in Glasgow.
The picture is Woman with a Birdcage by Joszef Rippl-Ronai, from The Athenaeum website.